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Cynder Sinclair: SB Foundation’s Ron Gallo Sees Unlimited Possibilities for Nonprofits

By Cynder Sinclair, Noozhawk Columnist |

For more than three decades, Ron Gallo has been serving in the areas of philanthropy and nonprofit leadership. Seventeen of these years were spent leading community foundations. He took the reins as president/CEO of the Santa Barbara Foundation in 2008.

Recently, Nonprofit Kinect had the honor of interviewing Gallo to ask for his insights into the South Coast’s nonprofit sector. In this interview, Gallo gives us his thoughts on the importance of measuring the results of education, the key to nonprofit sustainability and implications of our area’s changing demographics.

I don’t like the term “nonprofit.”

For the past 30 years, since I entered the nonprofit sector, I have disliked this moniker. Ours is the only field that describes itself with a negative. We should use a title that is more descriptive of our industry — like “the independent sector” or the “civic sector.”

The term “not-for-profit” is only an IRS designation; it is not meant to be a business model. This designation is important for tax-deductible donations, but it shouldn’t be front of mind in everyday use.

Beneath the use of this term is a sense that nonprofits are very different than for-profit businesses. The reality is that great companies often display great interest in social issues, and great nonprofits abide by principles of great business. It would be beneficial for our sector and for our community if nonprofit folks got up every day and looked at the world using analogous terms that focus on efficiencies, effectiveness and collaborations. If nonprofits can see themselves through a broader lens, they will serve the community better and be stronger in the long run.

Board governance is a critical issue for the effectiveness and sustainability of nonprofits.

The Santa Barbara Foundation together with the Ventura County Community Foundation has been offering training for board members. It turns out that this board training is the most popular module in our offerings; in fact, we have a waiting list.

I am glad to see that our nonprofits are attuned to the importance of good governance. Many board members don’t realize that the board is the legal entity for the organization. The board should never be running the operations of their nonprofit; but they should see themselves as the “owners” and, as such, responsible for the reputation and quality of the organization’s work.

South Coast demographics are changing dramatically.

I am surprised sometimes that many people don’t seem to understand the degree to which our demographics are changing on the South Coast. Nor do they understand the ramifications of this trend for all of us.

For example, our entire county is 38 percent Latino and nearly 80 percent in Santa Maria, while Santa Barbara is approaching 40 percent. This trajectory is expected to continue to escalate. We will be a Latino-majority county in our lifetime. Demographics aren’t political; they are just a reflection of the way it is. We need to pay attention to the aging demographics and the cultural demographics.

Ron Gallo
Ron Gallo

As goes the Latino community, so goes our collective future. So it is not so much a question of what we can do for Latinos, but rather what we can do to promote the common good for us all. If people don’t feel connected or don’t have skills to engage in the community, we will all lose.

Nonprofits, from arts to safety nets, need to learn more about the demographic trends because their future is bound up in their response to these demographics. For example, future audiences for the opera will be drawn from changing demographics. So cultivating this audience now makes good sense.

Let’s talk about education results, not education reform.

I am tired of hearing the words “education reform.” We talk too much about reforming when we should be talking about results. The bottom line is that if we don’t have an educated population, we don’t have a good collective future. An educated population gives us a more civil society, better families, better government and a better economy. As Thomas Jefferson said, “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”

Sadly, in my lifetime there has been a de-investment and de-valuation of education. Who are today’s kids’ heroes? Athletes and entertainers. That’s OK on some level, but young people used to look up to people like Jonas Salk, Norman Rockwell, Dr. Martin Luther King and U.S. presidents. We had a mind-set that people who were intelligent and smart were held up as heroes. Let’s get back to where it’s cool to be smart.

There is a clear correlation between a strong democracy and an educated population.

Jefferson encouraged the gentry to bear the tax of educating the masses, because if the populous remained ignorant it would bring the entire community down. In the first part of 20th century, we experienced the most extraordinary growth of our economy. I believe this can be linked back to having the best public school system on the planet.

Historically, our school system moved immigrants from poverty to leadership. In fact, I am a result of that phenomenon. I was born into a family of modest means in the Bronx, N.Y. The public school system moved me from a family that didn’t go to college to graduating college and completing graduate work and eventually leading the Santa Barbara Foundation.

This country had a deep commitment to public education, but we need to recommit to that vision so we can have great future. Today, however, we have to do it even better than in previous years because history left out some people, by design, neglect and/or habit — especially people of color and women.

The Santa Barbara Foundation is focusing intentionally on getting to student success. We are targeting specifically the “bookends”: kindergarten readiness and graduating high school with a good plan for college and/or a trade school. We must be vigorous, intentional and follow through with preparing our children for the future.

Our community is full of possibilities.

This is a crucial time in our country’s history. It’s full of possibilities and challenges, and I am optimistic about our future. The only way forward is if everyone embraces democracy and leans in. Nonprofits play an important role, but they have to be collaborative and smart going forward.

I see nothing but greatness for Santa Barbara because we have talent and involvement of a scale that enables us to make a real difference. In fact, we can be a model for other communities, but it doesn’t happen by accident; it happens by intention.

Biographical Information for Ron Gallo

Ronald V. Gallo, Ed.D., brings 17 years of community foundation leadership to his position as president and CEO. Prior to joining the Santa Barbara Foundation, Ronald completed tenure of 15 years as the president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, one of the nation’s larger community foundations. Earlier in his career, he was the executive director of the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund in Jacksonville, Fla., and consultant to the Arthur D. Little Foundation in Cambridge, Mass.

During his more than three decades in philanthropy and nonprofit leadership, Ronald has had a particular interest in sustaining equitable community development, identifying and supporting community-based leadership, improving health outcomes for communities, strengthening the arts, fostering creative partnerships between the private and public sectors, and identifying new models of philanthropy.

Ronald holds a bachelor of arts degree in history and Asian studies from Connecticut College, a master of science degree in social work from Columbia University, a master of education degree in administration and planning from Harvard University and a doctor of education degree in policy studies from Harvard, where he completed a dissertation on the connection between language preservation and economic development among the indigenous peoples of Oaxaca, Mexico.

— Cynder Sinclair, Ph.D., is a local consultant to nonprofits and founder and CEO of Nonprofit Kinect. She can be contacted at 805.689.2137, or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The opinions expressed are her own.




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